WWE RAW (Spike)
aka WWF RAW is WAR

Yes, I watched far too much rasslin' in the mid-late 90s, when instead I could have been reading Balzac, or eating pussy, or bathing. To my credit, if you were gonna lay waste to a Monday night back then, spending your time flipping back and forth between the WWF's "RAW is WAR" and WCW's "Nitro" was at the very least mindlessly entertaining.

Both feds had hit a high point with a combination of megalomaniacal chief operators (Vince McMahon & Eric Bischoff), über-charismatic athletes ("Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, genius-at-large Mick Foley, Scott Hall, and on and on), plus kick-ass story arcs which, oddly enough, had both companies being taken down from the inside (Stone Cold's vengence against Mr. McMahon, as well as the New World Order trying to overrun WCW).

They were unabashed, unapologetic male soap operas, and damn if they weren't a blast to watch.

Fast-forward several years to a day when McMahon has purchased the WCW, effectively destroying the rivalry between the leagues and seemingly all forward momentum, leaving a largely unfocussed mess of short-attention span, lowest common denominator poses and a palpable desperation to hold onto whatever 16-year-old Fred Durst-worshipping chunkheads it can.

In theory, I love watching pulsars of sprawl that emit years after a product has celebrated its glory days. Here, I found myself antsy as all get out, waiting to get to bed.

I haven't particularly followed the WWE very closely in the past few years, but I can sit down to watch and pick things up fairly quickly – again, much like your standard soap opera. I'd been hearing that the product had been fairly miserable as of late, and saw nothing that ran contrary to that assessment.

Supposing you want to check every cognitive cell of your brain and just let your eyes watch fast moving objects on TV, the WWE will do the trick. However, I snuck a few synapses in and just couldn't find myself caring or rooting for anyone on screen.

The nearest-to-likeable guy was faux-superhero The Hurricane, who's been around for a few years now, but seems to get the crap beaten out of him each time I see him. Tonight was no exception, as he and his rotund sidekick Rosey (wearing the non-subtle "Super Hero In Training" t-shirt, incoincidentally spelled-out multiple times by the announcers) were again destroyed, this time by the monstro Kane, who now apparently doesn't wear his mask anymore OR talk with an eletronic voice box. Continuity? Apparently not necessary … a la Days of Our Lives.

The show was crammed with the standard superslick production, awkwardly-acted backstage vignettes, hormone-thumping T&A, stock villains (these days, it's the French), head-scratching matches (WHY were two announcers involved in a strap match again?), etc.

The last event was a pretty solid ladder match between former ECW star Rob Van Dam and former WWF vampire character Christian, both men taking some decent bumps and easily adding the most drama to the night's festivities. It was the sole moment I stopped consciously thinking about the Bears/Packers game I was missing on another station.

To its credit, the WWE still has some stars that can rock the mic, but these guys won't be around forever, so the WWE better really start prepping their next league of heroes. The Rock's chomping at the bit to become a full-time movie star, and Stone Cold's character was so destroyed by an earlier left-field period (where he would reply "WHAT?" after every sentence someone would speak to him), so that watching him interact with a crowd anymore is downright excruciating.

More gripes: if you're going to continue having characters walking the grey line between good and bad, pull it off well or just don't try it at all. And you won't have a crowd universally hating a villian if you introduce him with kick-ass pyrotechnics and Motorhead playing. Even my mom would even cheer for that shit.

Recently, I was doing an inventory of a number of action figures I'd been storing over at my sister's, wondering why and how I had amassed them. Along parallel lines, witnessing WWE as a pale shadow of its former self, I wondered if I could sell the figures on eBay and purchase two years of my life back instead.

Would I watch again if the product got good again? Dunno. Maybe if they'd offer me a musical director position for a Mick Foley talk show.

Review by Bradley A. Milton © 2003